Today is a day like any other, a day when people are going along with the rhythm of their lives, a day when I’ve decided that I want to tell you my story. If you’re a sensitive person, I recommend that you stop reading because you may be left with a bitter flavor in your mouth by the time you finish this.
My story starts in a small town in a not-so-well-known conservative country. I’m the unwanted second child from a dysfunctional Chinese family. I was almost one of many abortions. I largely grew up as an ordinary boy with an ordinary life, but I was not the same as others. I was the only boy with small eyes and yellow skin. As I was growing up, I always felt an air of existential discomfort whenever someone pointed at me or looked at me because I was different, as if I were a pariah.
When I was eight years old, some classmates and I played spin the bottle. We were having a lot fun, and then it was my classmate Daniel’s turn. He spun the bottle, and it stopped in front of me. My adrenaline was high—I had never kissed a person before, and I was just eight, and he was a boy, and kissing a boy seemed unthinkable to me. I was scared and afraid, but for some reason, I still wanted to kiss him. I felt the need. Suddenly, Daniel kissed me without warning.
After the kiss I felt confused, but very deep inside me, the kiss aroused me. I didn’t think too much of the kiss afterward since I was still just a child growing up, but over time, I realized I liked guys and that I couldn’t deny that part of myself. It was the beginning.
When I was twelve years old, on the eve of 2007, I was celebrating in my house with my brothers and friends. At that time, my mother was on a trip to China because my grandfather had passed away, and my father was likely at a casino gambling away all the money he had won in mahjong or possibly hooking up with one of his lovers. So my brothers and I had the house to ourselves.
I remember one of my brothers opened a bottle of wine and convinced me to drink (it was usual in my town for people of age to give drinks to younger people like me). After a few drinks, my stomach was full, and I spurted out some slightly stupid comments. I then went to my room to rest and was closing the door behind me to escape the sound of laughter and celebration when all of a sudden, my older brother’s friend Andy, a guy of 23, reached his arm in. Reeking of weed and alcohol, he walked into my room and hurriedly and nervously shut the door and locked it. Taking advantage of my drunken weakness, he pushed me onto my bed and threw himself against me, all while I was asking what he was doing. I didn’t know what to do because he was stronger than me. He started touching me undeterred. I screamed, but he put his hands on my neck to strangle me and silence me. In the tussle, I cut my right cheek against one of the bed decorations. I was too tired and drunk to fight. He undressed me, and I cried and told him to stop, but he didn’t. By the time Andy was satiated with my agony and despair, I had stopped crying. I picked up my clothes, got dressed, and went to the bathroom. I splashed water on my face and looked in the mirror and noticed the cut on my right cheek. I started to cry again.
Three years after the incident, my right cheek wound had healed, but the scar still showed on my face. At the end of ninth grade, I met Thomas. We became close friends, and for many years, he was the only one I felt close to. During those years, I spent much of my time in the library playing chess, sleeping, and listening to random music on my headphones. And honestly, I didn’t want much human contact since the New Year incident. Thomas didn’t know what had happened, but he was the only one who knew I was gay and didn’t judge me for being the only one with yellow skin in the school. He was the only one who gave me comfort during my darkest moments.
One day, while lying on the grass in a park near my school, I looked at the clear sky and saw how beautiful it was at 5 p.m. The sky was intense, clear, and beautiful just before nightfall, and tears began to flow from my eyes. I had determined that everything must end that day—permanently. This was the day when all my pain would end and my chains from this world would break, and my scattered thoughts, my mind, and my spirit would be released. After classes, I went to different pharmacies to buy an exuberant number of ibuprofen pills. I returned to the park near my school to say goodbye to the world and finish what my parents couldn’t do in the moment before my birth. I started putting in the first dozen pills into my mouth, but then someone pushed me.
Thomas appeared and told me that I have to throw away the pills. But I had already consumed enough pills to be at risk of overdose. Thomas took me—literally dragged me by force—to his uncle who knew about medicine. They forced me to take an alkaline substance to prevent overdose. I felt miserable and stupid for failing to do something as simple as ending my own life.
Thomas wondered why I tried to hurt myself. There was a moment of silence. I didn’t want to answer. Then he put his hand out and hugged me, saying, “Be strong, no matter how bitter the moments. Be strong, nothing is permanent, everything is temporary. Everything happens for a reason, and at some point, everything will change for the better. Don’t get depressed. I’m here for you. Make your own days the way you want them to be. Never carry a cross that you can’t hold on your own.”
Tears brimmed up, and I couldn’t hold them. After that day I felt a little relieved with myself. Time passed, and I started to be more sociable with people, but a few months later, police found the body of Thomas lifeless in the middle of the street, in the center of my city, with two holes in his skull and all his belongings stolen. The person who had saved me from myself and gave me hope died before I did.
When I was nineteen years old, my parents sent me to America without notice—to seek a better life, supposedly. It took me by surprise, and I was afraid. Over the years I had become more outgoing, candid, and formed many new friendships, but now all of a sudden I had to leave my friends, my boyfriend, and the rest of my family and to stop leaving flowers on gravestones.
I arrived in New York City. Going from one environment to another overnight was a huge challenge. My biggest challenge was English since it wasn’t my first language nor my favorite. The first year in America was a year of loneliness and sadness, a year in which I questioned what to do. I spent more than half the time at home. I didn’t have friends or my brother, who is the closest to me and would always advised me.
One day, surfing the internet, I watched a video of a gay YouTuber talking about a dating app called Tinder. I was struck by the fact that finding other gay guys could be done simply through an app. Living with a traditional Chinese family in a conservative and Catholic dominated hometown, I had not been out for that long. The way I used to seek guys in my hometown was basically through trial and error and luck. While fooling around with Tinder in New York, I discovered more apps for dating, such as Jack’d, Hornet, and Grindr, just to meet people for a meal and nice conversation or simply hook up. But again, the language barrier always stood in my way.
By the time I got used to navigating the city, language was no longer a big problem. I had overcome a barrier, not entirely, but at least I could think of ideas in English and express myself a little bit more naturally. I became comfortable in the city and made friends. I realized that now that I’m living in New York City, people don’t look at me weirdly for being Asian.
One day I met a friend through Jack’d—his name was Kris, a Filipino guy who plunged me into the world of gay bars and nightclubs in New York. He also introduced me to GAPIMNY (Gay Asian Pacific Islander Men of New York), a queer male API organization. The city became increasingly more interesting, welcoming, and free. I could be as queer as possible and nobody would care.
In my first two years in New York, I was excited about new things I had never seen and some I had never imagined could exist. I was like a little kid in a huge park. I was enjoying endless adventures where there was so much to learn, explore, dream, fight for, and live for. I realize now that New York City is a place, in comparison to my conservative hometown, largely without looks of scorn, a place where there is a diversity of impressive cultures and social groups, a place where race, sex, and religion do not matter as much.
At the end of these last few years, I have realized that no matter how high the hill becomes, we must never lose hope because that is the last thing we should be allowed to lose. When you feel depressed and desperate, look at the blue sky and remember that the sun is alone, yet continues to shine brightly.
Wen Feng Chen
This emotionally intense Gaysian Diaries entry relates an experience of child sexual abuse (CSA), which is more common than is talked about – the 2015 National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence estimated that around 10% of all youth 14 to 17 years old have experienced attempted or completed rape or contact sex offenses by adults and peers sometime in their lives so far (source). Statistics vary among studies, but chances are that someone else you know has experienced CSA, most likely from someone they knew. And if you’ve experienced CSA, you’re not alone. I have so much respect for Wen Feng Chen for talking publicly about his experiences despite all the stigma around CSA.
This was the day when all my pain would end and my chains from this world would break, and my scattered thoughts, my mind, and my spirit would be released.
As with other traumas, CSA can cause specific and long-term effects which may pile up and ripple out, such as depression and vulnerability to future violence. So it’s crucial that victims/survivors get access to the help they need, whether that’s professional help or help from those they personally know and trust – such as Thomas in this story.
Never carry a cross that you can’t hold on your own.
But how can we better help each other carry the crosses we bear, so that nobody suffers alone, and how can we reduce suffering from interpersonal violence? The Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, which is building transformative justice responses to child sexual abuse, has outlined one approach: helping people build relationships and trust that already exist (or could exist) into pods:
the people you would call on if violence, harm, or abuse happened to you; or the people that you would call on if you wanted support in taking accountability for violence, harm or abuse that you’ve done; or if you witnessed violence or if someone you care about was being violent or being abused.
These would be the people in our lives that we would call on to support us with things such as our immediate and on-going safety, accountability and transformation of behaviors, or individual and collective healing and resiliency.
If this seems like common sense to you, that’s intentional. Just like how Thomas, as a high schooler, built a relationship of trust and respect that ultimately saved a friend’s life, we can do the same with the people in our lives. So who might be there for you when you need support, and who might need you to be there for them?